When the mine shuts down it’s not only the land that bears the scars – the people also suffer the impact of the sudden socio-economic changes and bear the psychological scars brought by the sudden changes.
In this series of photographs taken since 2017 LUCAS LEDWABA looks at the impact of mine closures in the Sekhukhune area of Limpopo in an ongoing project on how rural communities are affected by the mining industry

The platinum mining boom of the early 2000s saw an increased demand for accommodation in the Nkumpi-Lepelle and Tubatse regions of Limpopo.

The mine’s presence is evident everywhere in the Tubate region of Sekhukhune where job losses have devastated communities Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

In a bid to cash in on the platinum rush entrepreneurs sourced funds in the form of loans and stokvels to build different types of units to take advantage of the exodus of people flocking to the areas in search of work and accommodation.

They also bought taxis, built up car washes, restaurants, hair salons and even built new homes in anticipation of the economic boom.

But hard times have hit the once booming mining villages of Sekhukhune. The rows of rooms that once accommodated mineworkers now stand empty.

Economic hardships have hit the village of Atok since the Bokoni Platinum Mine was put under care and maintenance by its owners Anglo American Platinum and Atlatsa Resources. Small businesses like this car wash along the R37 have had to shut down operations. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

Stranded entrepreneurs tell depressing tales of mounting debt in unpaid loans, ex miners reveal the shock of being forced to return new cars to dealerships, taxi owners too, food vendors and many small businesses have been forced to shut down too.

Limpopo premier Chupu Mathabatha said in his State of the Province Address in March that the mining sector had lost over 11 000 jobs as a result of mines being placed under care and maintenance in the Sekhukhune and Vhembe areas. However Sekhukhune, being the province’s platinum mining hub, has been hardest hit.

Retrenched mineworker Nelson Lesufi hustles a living fixing potholes in Atok. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

He said jobs in mining had decreased from 106 000 to 86 000 between the 4th quarter of 2018 and the 4th quarter of 2019. It is expected that with the economic downturn resulting from the covid-19 lockdown, the situation could become even more dire.

The closure of mines has had a negative impact on host communities which have experienced a decline in business activity including the lodgings business, car washes, restaurants, transport, trucking, security and the informal sector.

Taxi operator Sepedi Mashabela says the Twickenham mine’s closure has led to many of his colleagues having their taxis repossessed. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

It is projected that the covid-19 lockdown which has slowed down all sectors of the economy may have an even more dire impact on rural mining communities.

The Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy vol.118 n.4 April 2018 says in a study on Mitigating the socio-economic consequences of mine closure:’In most cases, communities were not prepared beforehand for the loss of employment and ensuing poverty. Most affected mining communities suffered from shock.

Residents are forced to endure the negative effects of environmental degradation like this polluted man made stream that runs into the Motse river from the Hackney mine Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

‘Both the emotional and economic spheres of the inhabitants’ existence were affected. This process also impacts social structures and the economic well being of a mining community. Studies indicated a strong relationship between unemployment, emotional issues, and health problems such as hypertension, insomnia, and psychological maladies like depression and feelings of uncertainty. Participants also reported feelings of helplessness and anger.’

Constance Matheba who used to make a living selling food to mineworkers in Atok is now without an income and is now worried about how she is going to support three minor children . Photo: Lucas Ledwaba\Mukurukuru Media

Lefa Matabane’s Atok Aluminium Solutions in Atok has been forced to shut down since the Bokoni Platinum mine which was the lifeblood of the economy in Atok village was placed under care and maintenance. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

Although the Mining Charter makes provision for mining companies to prepare communities through skills training and alternative business enterprises for life after mining, communities like Atok continue to suffer the hangover left behind by the closure of operations.

Zero Phasha uses his donkey cart to make a living through his transport business ferrying firewood, water and groceries for his clients. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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